On Friday, 31 January, Taylor Marshall hosted a YouTube program, Can Popes Become Heretics? St. Robert Bellarmine Analysis, with Ryan Grant providing expert commentary.
Mr. Grant’s primary contribution to the topic is his in-depth knowledge of Latin and his ability to translate Bellarmine’s original texts. He also has a solid grasp of Church history and a gift for recalling a vast amount of information at will. The program is nearly two-hours long, but I learned a lot and found it well worth the time.
Though Marshall and Grant’s main objective is to refute sedevacantism in the broadest sense, the most valuable aspect of the program, in my view, is the degree to which it provides insight into the reasoning of sincere and learned Catholics who still insist that Jorge Bergoglio is not just a member of the Body of Christ, but her visible head on earth.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this program (Grant’s insights in particular) offers the best arguments that can be put forth against equally sincere persons, like me, who steadfastly believe that Jorge Bergoglio is a manifest heretic and an anti-pope.
About sincere persons in both camps: Though he has degrees in theology and philosophy, Grant makes it a point to say that he is not a theologian, and he cautions that “there are a lot of people doing theology who really shouldn’t be” because they often make serious mistakes for lack of training, usually without even knowing it.
There is merit to these cautionary words, however, I would only point out that most viewers would likely conclude that the majority of the program consists of Mr. Grant, a self-proclaimed non-theologian, doing an awful lot of what looks like theology!
In reality, I think it is fair to say that he, and Taylor Marshall, were simply doing what I and many others are doing in this post-conciliar age by necessity; namely, using all of the tools at our disposal to help ourselves and others make sense of a confusing situation, all in an attempt to be and remain Catholic in spite of the present crisis. In this, we stand on common ground.
Now to the heart of the program, which conveys St. Robert Bellarmine’s thoughts concerning five particular opinions on the problem of a so-called heretical pope as largely as made known in his work, De Romano Pontifice – subject matter that, in Grant’s words, “is largely theological speculation.” Furthermore, as he later points out, Holy Mother Church still has not proposed anything definitive upon which we can rely with absolute certainty in the matter – truths to which we will return later.
The analysis begins in earnest with a look at Opinion #1, which asserts that a pope cannot possibly become a heretic, either publicly or privately. Mr. Grant informs us that Bellarmine considered this “a probable opinion.”
I, for one, would be very interested in learning more about why Bellarmine considered this to be the case. My assumption is that he believed that the gifts and promises bestowed upon Peter and his successors by Our Lord would prohibit such a thing from ever happening.
Whatever the case may be, several centuries later, the Church at Vatican Council I spoke on just this very thing:
So, this gift of truth and a never failing faith was divinely conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair, that they might administer their high duty for the salvation of all; that the entire flock of Christ, turned away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished on the sustenance of heavenly doctrine, that with the occasion of schism removed the whole Church might be saved as one, and relying on her foundation [the Papacy] might stay firm against the gates of Hell. (Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus) [Emphasis added]
Pay close attention: What precisely was conferred upon Peter and his successors? Truth and never failing faith. To what end are these gifts “divinely conferred” upon the popes? As a safeguard against the poisonous food of error, otherwise known as the gates of Hell.
NB: Never failing faith. Never means never; it does not mean occasionally. Error means error, and such is not limited merely to those things that fit a very narrow canonical definition of heresy.
Pope Pius XI, in his magnificent Encyclical Quas Primas, On the Feast of Christ the King, makes this very plain when he states that the Church is endowed with “perfect and perpetual immunity from error and heresy.”
Get that? Immunity not just from heresy strictly defined, but error, broadly speaking. Perfect and perpetual, as in never failing.
Pope Pius XII, in the Encyclical Mystici Corporis, speaks likewise:
Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, opened up to His Church the fountain of divine gifts, which prevent her from ever teaching false doctrine.
Once again, we see that these divine gifts protect the Church from ever teaching false doctrines, and the protection provided is not limited to merely infallible, dogmatic definitions, as if everything else is up for grabs.
And how are these divine gifts made manifest such that the true Church is prevented from ever teaching false doctrine? The Holy Father tells us that it is “through divinely enlightened pastors” that the Church realizes this protection. This divine enlightenment, Pope Pius XII teaches, most profoundly applies to the pope:
Christ … enriches pastors and teachers and above all His Vicar on earth with the supernatural gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, so that they may loyally preserve the treasury of faith, defend it vigorously, and explain it and confirm it with reverence and devotion. (ibid.)
You see, it is the pope above all whom Our Lord imbues with grace in order to protect the entire Church from ever teaching error. This should make perfect sense to readers given Our Lord’s words as spoken at Caesarea Philippi:
And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
As stated, the “gates of Hell” refers specifically to the error and heresy from which the Church enjoys “perfect and perpetual immunity” (see Pius XI above), and one does well to note that Our Lord’s promise is directly linked to the establishment of the papacy.
With all of this in mind, is it any wonder that St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, believed it probable that a true pope could never fall into heresy?
For the sake of brevity, let us move on to Opinion #3, which maintains that a pope can never lose his office, or in any way suffer deposition, even if he should fall into manifest heresy. Mr. Grant offers Bellarmine’s assessment of this Opinion by quoting the Saint as stating:
It would be a most miserable condition for the Church if she were compelled to acknowledge the wolf manifestly prowling.
Are there any among us, who upon reading these words, did not immediately envisage the man known as Francis? Indeed, this cannot but call to mind the situation in which the conciliar church finds itself today. While no one can say for certain, it seems reasonable to believe that the blasphemous misdeeds and heresies of Jorge Bergoglio would far exceed whatever benchmark for ecclesial misery Bellarmine may have had in mind!
In any case, Mr. Grant then comments:
Neo-cons today would hold something similar to this – whether secret or public or manifest heresy, it doesn’t matter, you could never depose the pope.
To be fair, Grant made it plain elsewhere in the program that no earthly entity has authority over a reigning pope such that he can actually be “deposed” properly speaking. As such, what he really means to criticize is the idea that the Church would simply be stuck with a pope-turned-heretic, as if no remedies exist whatsoever short of the man either dying or otherwise departing on his own. This, in essence, is Opinion #3, and Grant clarifies the position taken by Bellarmine relative to it:
So, Bellarmine shows that this [Opinion #3] is wrong, because God would not allow the Church, it couldn’t happen that that God would say, yup, this is what you got to do, and you got to sit in this situation with the corruption of faith, you know, just happening all around, or the faith being reduced to a laughingstock in that way.
Once again, my friends, are there any among us who did not immediately call to mind the manifold ways in which Jorge Bergoglio has corrupted the faith and made of it a laughingstock?
Let us now fast forward to Opinion #5, the one endorsed by Bellarmine and about which Mr. Grant says that the Saint is “on pretty solid ground with his citations of the Fathers and the Patristics.” Let us recall before proceeding that Bellarmine thinks it is probable that a true pope would never fall into manifest heresy in the first place. So, his commentary on Opinion #5 can be prefaced, if a true pope should fall into manifest heresy, then…
Reading from the Latin text, Grant quotes Bellarmine:
This is the Fifth, true Opinion, that a manifestly heretical Pope ceases, per se, to be in head, just as, per se, he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the Body of the Church. This is why he can be judged and punished by the Church. So, this is the true opinion of the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics lose all jurisdiction.
In the book, St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice: On the Roman Pontiff (Mediatrix Press, 2015, pp. 304-310) Mr. Grant provides the following translation, worded slightly differently:
Now the fifth true opinion, is that a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church.
Note well the two occasions in which “per se” is employed by Bellarmine in the first translation. This phrase is often misused in casual conversation, but understood correctly it means “of itself, intrinsically, essentially.”
As Mr. Grant’s second translation makes plain, manifest heresy is such that the man “ceases in himself to be pope.” The important point is that the manifest heretic ceases to be pope not as the result of some subsequent act on the part of another human agent. Rather, the cessation is intrinsic to manifest heresy itself, therefore, no other action is necessary in order to bring about the heretic’s severance from the papacy and the Body of the Church.
In the case of a former pope (former as a result of his manifest heresy), that man is no different than any other baptized individual who, being subject to the Church’s authority, can be judged and punished by her.
NB: When Bellarine states “this is why he can be judged” (first translation) he does not mean to suggest that the pope, as pope, somehow finds himself open to judgment and punishment; rather, he means to say (as is made clearer in the second translation) that once he ceases to be pope by virtue of his manifest heresy, it is then that he, like any other baptized individual – in this case, one who is no longer even a member of the Church – can be judged and punished by the Church.
About Bellarmine’s statement concerning the Church’s judgment, Mr. Grant states:
He [Bellarmine] doesn’t say he [the manifest heretic formerly pope] can be judged by the opinion of men or by blogs or whatever … he says judged and punished by the Church.
In this, Grant is suggesting, and unreasonably so in my opinion, that those individuals who simply recognize a manifest heretic for what he is, publicly identify him as such and treat him accordingly are in some way encroaching upon the Church’s unique ability (and duty, I would add) to render judgment and punishment upon the heretic. One, however, does not follow the other.
Yes, but can the faithful at large truly recognize a manifest heretic?
This seems to be where, for the most part, the rubber meets the road in this matter, a point upon which Marshall and Grant would presumably disagree with me.
The answer is yes, of course, an individual layman can recognize a manifest heretic, at which point he has an obligation to withdraw from communion with him. This isn’t merely my opinion, but rather is it drawn for the instructions that are plainly given in Sacred Scripture to which we’ll return momentarily.
Speaking for myself, it is perfectly plain to me (and to men far more intelligent and holier than I) that Jorge Bergoglio has severed himself from the Body of the Church due to his manifest heresy. As such, I am convinced that this “Francis” person is an anti-pope and I have stated that belief publicly. Mr. Grant apparently believes that this amounts to a usurpation of the Church’s unique ability to render judgment and punishment upon Jorge Bergoglio. It is no such thing.
In fact, I pray for the day when the one true Church of Christ will exercise her singular power over the likes of Jorge Mario Bergoglio! In the case of a manifest heretic claimant to the papacy, the public judging and punishment leveled by the Church upon the man takes on the greatest importance, especially if (as may be expected) he is still looked upon as pope by innocent and mistaken faithful.
Mr. Grant then went about sharing his own opinion as to what Bellarmine actually meant when he stated, “This is why he can be judged and punished by the Church.”
For insight into the matter, Mr. Grant turned to Bellarmine’s writing on the Church (De Ecclessia), wherein the Saint wrote “On the utility, or even the necessity, of celebrating councils.” According to Grant, reading from the text:
He [Bellarmine] gives a number of reasons … he says, “The fourth reason is suspicion of heresy in the Roman Pontiff. If perhaps it would happen, or if he were an incorrigible tyrant, for then a General Council ought to be gathered either to depose the pope, if he could be found to be a heretic, or certainly to admonish him if he seemed incorrigible in morals.”
Bellarmine uses the word “depose” here, and I suspect that some viewers came away confused. To be clear, he is not advocating for conciliarism; i.e., he is not stating that a council can exercise authority over a reigning pope in such a way as to “depose” him, properly speaking.
That said, note well that Bellarmine is suggesting that a council “ought” to be used for the purpose of examining a pope suspected of heresy. He does not suggest that the only way to examine a pope suspected of heresy, and to ascertain whether or not he is indeed a manifest heretic, is to gather a council. To be clear, ought is not to be confused with must.
In this portion of his presentation, Mr. Grant is attempting to illustrate what is required of the baptized vis-à-vis their relationship with a pope-turned-manifest-heretic. To this end, he cites Bellarmine’s comments concerning the duty of Lutherans to appear before a council that is called by the pope, unless that pope has been deposed by the Church.
[Bellarmine’s] got this onus on a council in order to carry out this particular thing, so that you know he’s a manifest heretic. So, [the Church is] going to give this declaration that it is so … Because [Bellarmine’s commentary] says for Lutherans, you have to go to the council unless it were first shown that the Pope were deposed as a heretic, then you wouldn’t have to listen to him. He doesn’t say when he first became a manifest heretic, right then you don’t have to listen to him anymore, which is what the sedevacantists do.
This argument has a number of holes in it, first of all, with regard to context. Bellarmine in this text is addressing a case involving Lutherans, in other words, schismatics and heretics: Of course they need some official declaration in order to know whether or not a claimant to the Chair of St. Peter is a manifest heretic to be avoided. They have lost the faith!
Bellarmine is not saying that no one – not even the most learned among the lay faithful – can possibly determine that a man is a manifest heretic apart from some official action on the part of the Church.
Furthermore, this “onus on a council” is merely what Bellarmine said “ought” to happen; he does not present it as a hard and fast requirement – a point we’ve already addressed.
Grant, however, boldly states: “You have to have that act of the Church.” Bellarmine, whom Grant himself informed us earlier is engaging in “speculative theology,” does not say “You have to have” anything.
What Grant is doing, presumably without even realizing it, is arguing something certain based on a theological opinion – something that, as we shall see shortly, he claims we must not do.
Furthermore, you have to have that act of the Church flies directly in the face of Bellarmine’s own words concerning Opinion #5: “A Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church…”
In himself… This tells us that the Church does not have to act in order to make it so.
And bear in mind that Bellarmine’s commentary on Opinion #5 does not hint at any exceptions. As such, according to it, even if the overwhelming majority of the world’s faithful – including priests and bishops – were so sincerely mistaken (or so thoroughly imbued with error in their own right) as to look upon the manifest heretic as a true pope, their confusion would in no way change the objective reality; the man in question would still be – of himself, intrinsically, and essentially – a non-member of the Body of the Church and, therefore, not the Roman Pontiff. To the extent that he continued to present himself as pope, he would be an anti-pope.
This is not my opinion, properly speaking, I am simply fleshing out the logical conclusions that one must draw from Bellarmine’s view of Opinion #5 – the same that he called “the true opinion.”
That said, the Church does have a duty to, in Mr. Grant’s words, “give this declaration that it is so.” Let’s not confuse a declaration of what a thing is with an act that is necessary in order to make the thing what it is. In other words, the declaration simply announces what has already happened – the man of himself has ceased to be pope – it does not cause him to cease to be pope.
At this, let’s bring our focus back to where it belongs, the present day.
Bellarmine wasn’t faced with a man like Francis. More noteworthy still – as we attempt to garner insight from his commentary – is the fact that the body of bishops in his day, the same that he said “ought” to take steps to address the heretic in question, was largely comprised of faithful men who, like himself, were rightly repulsed by heresy.
What Bellarmine perhaps could not even envision is the putrid state of the institution presently based in Rome under the headship of “the humble one.” Nor could he imagine the utter unreliability of the world’s episcopacy in general. In other words, Bellarmine’s speculative ideas about a council gathering to examine a pope suspect of manifest heresy are unrealistic in the present situation.
Recall Ryan Grant’s criticism of neo-cons, who behave as if we have no choice but to suffer the present situation whereby a man claiming to be pope is corrupting the faith with impunity. Evidently, it is lost on him that this is essentially the position he has taken. After reviewing Bellarmine’s evaluation of the five opinions, he concludes:
You still don’t have a consensus, so you can’t argue something certain, like withdrawing from communion with the successor of St. Peter, whom the entire Church has received as Pope, based on a theological opinion, even if it seems very sound. Because, you can’t do something certain from what’s uncertain, and nobody’s going to know how all this is going to work until the Church deduces it into practice.
It seems that Ryan Grant, just like the neo-cons he previously criticized, believes that we really are stuck with Francis until such time as the one true Church – eclipsed as she is by the conciliar imposter in our day – emerges from the shadows to speak definitively. I think there is good reason to believe that St. Robert Bellarmine would disagree.
Recall how Mr. Grant summarized his thoughts:
God would not allow the Church, it couldn’t happen that that God would say, yup, this is what you got to do, and you got to sit in this situation with the corruption of faith, you know, just happening all around, or the faith being reduced to a laughingstock in that way.
Look, I wholeheartedly join those who pray fervently for the Church to act in a definitive way, judging and punishing Jorge Bergoglio and his ilk, condemning the Council, the Novus Ordo, etc. In the meantime, are we to believe that God is saying that we have to just sit here and wait as the faith is being corrupted?
The answer is no, He is not. In fact, God has seen fit to give us a remedy and, thankfully, it is recorded in Sacred Scripture.
As things presently stand, Francis, vis-à-vis his blasphemies and heresies, has been publicly examined, admonished, warned and corrected more times than one can count! The Dubia is perhaps the most formal of these admonishments, with each of the five dubium inviting him to reaffirm teachings that are “based on Scripture and tradition.”
And how has Francis responded? With silence.
Is anyone so foolish as to imagine that he would even attempt to defend himself before an imperfect council gathered to examine his suspect teachings? Of course not, which only goes to show how untenable, and ultimately ineffective, Bellarmine’s otherwise good suggestion of gathering a council for this purpose truly is in our day.
Many of the publicly known efforts that have been made in the examination of Francis and his heresies have been undertaken by priests, bishops and cardinals, who, although tainted in their own right with varying degrees modernism, have invited Francis to renounce his heresy and to reaffirm the true faith, to which he has only doubled-down on his false doctrines.
In all of this, the benchmark set in Sacred Scripture for determining that one is a heretic that must be avoided – that is, a man from whom we must withdraw communion – has not only been reached, it has been far exceeded. Let’s take a look:
A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: Knowing that he, that is such a one, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment. (Titus 3:10-11).
Note very well that no exception is made for claimants to the Chair of St. Peter.
Consider the following as well:
But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Mt. 18:15-17)
Francis’ heresies and blasphemies are an offense first and foremost against Christ, but also against every member of His Body. Numerous “rebukes” of Francis have been made – the heresies enshrined in Amoris Laetitia in particular, some even prior to its publication. In response, Francis will not hear them.
With respect to the five Dubia that claim recourse to Sacred Scripture and tradition, we may say that “the Church” has spoken to Francis. In response to this, Francis will not hear the Church.
As such, according to Our Lord’s own instructions, we are to treat him as a heathen and publican; that is, as one outside the Church. Again, there are no exceptions given for claimants to the Chair of St. Peter.
More directly applicable to Francis still are the words of St. Paul:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. (Galatians 1:8)
Anathema: The loss of goods or exclusion from the society of the faithful. (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)
Once again, no exceptions for men-in-papal-garb.
With respect to Francis, short of overwhelming confusion, no reasonably well-formed Catholic can possibly fail to recognize that the man is a manifest heretic who has judged himself as one who must be avoided. No council or declaration is needed in order to reach this conclusion; sensus Catholicus alone more than suffices.
May it please the Lord to move His Church to protect us from heresies and heretics of all stripes, and to make the declaration that all of us – Taylor Marshall, Ryan Grant, the present writer and many others – desperately desire.